Salute To Mario Duccini, Boxer Who Ran Filling Station/Beer Bar
Mario Duccini and his older brother Larry regularly watched professional boxing at Sacramento’s L Street Arena and dreamed of fighting there themselves when they grew up – an ambition that came true for both boys. They fought under the name “Duchini” because they were underage when starting and wanted to hide what they were doing from their parents at the same time they were seeking glory, keeping the new spelling even as professionals.
Not world beaters even though each brother had several dozen professional fights, Mario was the better boxer, winning Golden Gloves titles as an amateur, hoping to make the 1936 Olympic team until he ran into Charley Burley at the National AAU tournament in Cleveland. Burley is one of the greatest fighters in boxing history, but Duccini thought he beat Burley that night, claiming to have knocked him down and that the decision was a “crowd-angering verdict.”
“I wanted to go to Berlin so bad I could taste it,” Duccini said, arguing well into his retirement years – retirement from the service station he owned and operated for 46 years – that he was “pronounced loser because the AAU committee did not want to pay his traveling expenses back to Sacramento and then on to Berlin.”
All that could be verified to this end was an April 17th article in the Pittsburgh Press, which read “Charley Burly, Pittsburgh colored boy, eliminated Mario Duchini of Sacramento, Cal.”
Born at the corner of 4th and T but growing up a few blocks south on Front Street by the river, a neighborhood Mario admitted became rougher as city development pushed the impoverished to outlying areas, he fondly remembers his childhood, saying “it was really great, the way we lived then. There was nobody around.”
The boys’ father worked for the railroad and sold vegetables he grew himself, with Mario’s early training including more fights “in back of the old ice house at 5th and R than I ever had in the L Street Arena.”
Turning professional at age 17, the same year he took over a filling station and beer bar at 5631 H Street, Mario was a crowd pleaser. The San Francisco Examiner’s Curley Grieve wrote “Not enough attention has been paid to the well-built, olive-skinned Sacramento welterweight named Mario Duchini.” He was, according to Grieve, “a whirlwind of action. He doesn’t spar and dance. He feints and then punches. He keeps his opponent constantly moving away from the leather pouring in from all directions.”
The gas station in the late 1930s was on the eastern edge of the east side of town, the last place to fill up before setting out on a “two-lane country road that wound through hop fields, olive groves and cow pastures…” But, by the time Duccini closed up shop in 1982, this neighborhood was near the heart of one of the more established and prominent areas of Sacramento.
Mario had a pair of fights with local rival Johnny Bassanelli, a fellow bartender who later became a judge and referee, serving as judge for Rocky Marciano’s 1955 defense of the heavyweight championship against Don Cockell.
But his best win as a professional was a 1939 knockout of Pat Valentino, who grew in ten years from a middleweight to the exciting San Francisco heavyweight who challenged Ezzard Charles for the heavyweight title.
Duccini’s business life was consuming an increasing amount of his time. Gasoline was nine cents a gallon and a beer cost a dime. “I was so busy selling beer that when some guy drove up to the pumps to get gas I’d make everyone in the café duck so he couldn’t see anyone around and he’d drive away,” Duccini said.
His last fight was in 1941, a draw with Bobby Pacho (click here to see Mario's BoxRec.) “I knew I beat him but it was called a six round draw…I figured when I couldn’t win in my own hometown when I thought it was obvious I won, it was time to hang ‘em up.”
Mario served in the Marines during WWII, with Larry and another brother, Al, in the Coast Guard. Their father died in 1943. Mario returned to his service station after the war, with Larry bartending at the Tan Tan and then Raven Club before opening the Subway Café in 1956 on the same block as Mario’s station.
Mario and Larry were very close, even marrying sisters, Evelyn and Dora, respectively. When the Sacramento Bee reported in 1967 that Evelyn had collapsed at a neighbor’s home and was pronounced dead at the hospital, the neighbor’s house was Dora’s.
Larry promoted fights for a few years in the late 1950s while Mario took out a manager’s license, managing Raul Flores – whose claim to fame as a boxer is being Eddie Machen’s first professional opponent – before becoming a referee in 1957.
Working as a boxing official for 25 years, for both amateur and professional bouts, Mario preferred monitoring the kids over adults. “I especially like to work amateur bouts,” he said. “They bring back a lot of memories.”
Very popular, Mario’s introduction as referee often brought a larger applause than was received by the boxers. “In his time, Mario was as well known in this area as Mills Lane is in Nevada,” local matchmaker Sid Tenner said in 1999.
He oversaw many fine boxers in this capacity – Yaqui Lopez, Rodolfo Gonzalez, and heavyweights such as Zora Folley, Cleveland Williams, Mac Foster, and Henry Clark. He was a judge for Pete Ranzany’s 1976 victory over Adolfo Viruet, the fight that put Pete on the welterweight map.
Larry sold the Subway after ten years and tended bar at the Round Corner for a quarter century. Joe Orsi, owner of the tavern, said Larry was a fine bartender, polite and a good listener, who “mixed strong drinks” and “was generous with the customers.
“He also like to play the horses,” Orsi added.
Mario served as president of the Sacramento Valley Boxing Association and secretary of the California Federation of Service Stations, maintaining his station until 1982, the same year he retired as a boxing official. The Sacramento Bee’s Stan Gilliam allowed Mario to apologize in a July 1986 column for his “lapses of memory.” He would fail at times to recognize even longtime friends, and didn’t want anyone to think he was being rude.
Marrying again after Evelyn’s death, Mario’s second wife, Ruth, died in the fall of 1998. Mario followed her only a few months later. Larry lived until 2001.